Monday, March 09, 2009

What is our (Sikkimese) identity?


When we talk of identity, we are essentially asking the age old question of who we are? Or individually who am I? This question has baffled great minds of history since the beginning of time. In fact it directly relates to a very deep rooted subject called “self realization” or as Maslow puts it “self actualization”. When we deeply analyze history of philosophy and the sciences, we find that great minds have defined our identity in different ways.

The great saints and religions of the world teach us different practices, processes, karmas, dharma and rituals to basically understand this question. Who am I? How can I be happy, satisfied and peaceful? It is not just a question of theoretically understanding of who we are, but a real concrete realization or experience of who we feel and know who we are. For instance I really feel I am a bhutia and I know it well enough to identify with it completely. On the other hand great scientists like Rene Decart have said “I think, therefore I am”. And then there are other modern reductionist scientists who say that we are basically made up of atoms and molecules. And then there still others who believe that we have just evolved from the apes, not to mention the many existencial writers of the present century.

So where do we start this search, and who do we really believe?
I feel the best approach to this question would be to answer it at different levels. Depending on a person’s wisdom or evolution he’ll relate to this question of his identity at his own level. In other words our understanding of identity depends on our own state of consciousness. So what are the different levels of this realization?

A. At the broadest universal level –
We are intrinsically spiritual beings, a part and parcel of the universe. So as citizens of the universe we are individually and collectively, responsible for our actions of polluting the environment, destroying the biodiversity, effecting climate change and exploiting other living beings the right to live, creating suicide genes etc...

B. At the International level –
Internationally we are Indians, because of our passport. Even the Chogyal before or after the merger traveled on an Indian passport. Why? Because the Indian Government was responsible for “protecting” our suzerainty. How the Indian Government under Srimati Indra Gandhi, exercised her protectorate responsibility is a question of debate and for history to decide. But for now legally we are natural Indian citizens, because we became a part of India along with our individual and state owned land.
Baichung Bhutia is the football captain of India. When there is a cricket match, we cheer for India. Why? Because we identify with the Indian team, not Bangladesh or England.

C. At the national level –
Now days we first belong to the North East and then we belong to the state of Sikkim. During any national games, we represent Sikkim not Nepal or Bengal or Bhutan or Tibet.

D. Now at the state level –
The confusion starts here. Here we find 3 sets of identities getting misunderstood and a fourth one trying to add further twist to the confusion.

1. Our Constitutional identity: The Constitution of India (Article 371f) defines our identity as “Bhutia, Lepcha and Sikkimese of Nepali origin”. So legally or constitutionally we are “Bhutia, Lepcha or Nepali of Sikkimese origin”.

2. Our community: We may be newar, rai, bahun, bhutia, lepcha, limbo or tamang etc.
3. Mondal Commission’s idea of identity - Tribal, OBC, and NBC, SC
4. Another ridiculous twist: Gorkha

Unscrupulous Governments and politicians in the past and more so now are trying to confuse these three sets of identities for selfish gain and are playing with our sentiments and emotions. Some foolish people are further trying to add another foreign identity Gorkha, We don’t need the British to tell us who we are, neither do we need politicians and beaurocrats from Delhi to tell us who we are. We already know our own community and how to respect all other communities in our society, like we have done in the past and lived in harmony.

The Constitution already provides us with our identity as BL& Nepali of Sikkimese Origin .Now why do we want to confuse our constitutional identity with another set of identities like OBC or Tribal or NBC? This only confuses our people and further complicates or dilute our constitutional identity and in the process further breaks down our already fragmented society and culture into these OBC and NBC and tribal etc. Sikkimese people should be wise enough to understand that Sikkim subjects are already protected by the Constitutions. Otherwise, why would GOI be partial to Sikkim subjects and not to the others, by implementing an extremely complicated Income Tax Act to only a certain section of the people even after 33 years of merger? Why? Because of 371 f. Article 371f is only 2 pages and anyone who can read English can understand the protection and safeguard that it give our Sikkim subjects.
The real issue should be are you a Sikkimese or not a Sikkimese? Local or non local? If this line gets blurred, there will be no one questioning influx of Bangladeshis in the future? Result will be another bodoland or Manipur, with separatist agendas and bomb blasts. Aren’t we already finding thousands of detonators just lying around our jungles?

Sikkimese people should understand that all the people who are trying to amplify the different trade associations like, SCC, SAATO, taxi drivers etc and the community associations Newars, Chettri , Rai , Limbu etc or through active members of certain political parties are people who do not understand the value and importance of the Sikkim Subject certificate and hence are trying to enter the local Sikkimese social circle and are usually "OUTSIDERS". Of course our communal cultural identity is there and it is important to respect our cultural heritage, traditions, customs, language and literature etc. This shows the greatness of our cultural history and diversity and we must work hard to preserve and develop it further. However we must be careful not to confuse political rights with communal issues. The politicians are succedding in playing their communal vote bank politics and exploiting the future of the peaceful Sikkimese people.

So please don’t let selfish and short term politicians exploit our emotions and dilute our constitutional identity. All Sikkim subjects should unite irrespective of their community and then there is ample opportunity, communal harmony and progress. We are Sikkim subjects first and then we are Rai or Limboo or Lepcha after that. We cannot have the cake and eat it too. Either we are Bhutia or Tribal, OBC /NBC or Sikkimese of Nepali origin. If we want to go the tribal or OBC way, we should follow the Mandal Commission instead of Sikkim Subject Act of 1961. Outsiders and politicians will want us to believe in the Mandal Commission so that they can get their votes or dilute our constitutional identity and merge with us. Sikkimese people should choose. Let us not allow the next generation to go through what we are facing now - communal fragementation. Our parents already made a big mistake. Let us not aggravate the situation and make another troubled state like the north east. Let us not get bewildered by the temporary, short term benefits but unite and respect all communities in Sikkim for the future of our children.

E. At the local community/social level ?
At the society level we are recognized by our family and community. Let us respect all communities and their individual cultural heritage. Each and every one of us have a responsibility and role to play in our society. Let us give everyone an opportunity to exercise their responsibility. Just across the boarder from Rangpo, we don’t see fragmentation of the different communities. They all live peacefully as brothers and sisters. They don’t politically differenciate between Rai or Lepcha or Chhetri. We were the same earlier ? But what happened in the recent past ? Let us also learn from our Gorkha brothers and sisters from across the state.

F. At the individual level?
How do we identify ourselves individually? We have our name, sex, age, beauty, faith, degrees, qualifications, education, wealth, status, belongings like house and cars, connections and contacts, occupation or position, residence and the thousands of identities that we cover our selves with every day right down to the style and clothes we wear, mobiles we carry , music we listen to , books we read etc etc . Our identity at the individually level is a very complex one, which will be taken up in the next article if the readers show interest and write some comments or feedback to this article !